"Sharknado," the 2013 made-for-TV film about a twister that lifts sharks out of the ocean and drops them, alive and hungry, into downtown Los Angeles, will soon have a sequel. And according to one of the film's heroines, the plot of "Sharknado 2: The Second One," is not entirely implausible.
"You know, it actually can happen," actress and model Tara Reid said to GQ magazine.
"Which is crazy," she added. "Not that it—the chances of it are, like, you know, it's like probably ‘pigs could fly.' Like, I don't think pigs could fly, but actually sharks could be stuck in tornados. There could be a sharknado."
Is she correct? Could a waterspout lift up a great white shark and transport it from sea to land? And how long would it survive?
If it ever did happen, sharks would not be the first aquatic creatures to unexpectedly become airborne. As recently as 2010, residents of an interior Australian desert town reported hundreds of fish hurdling out of the sky. A tornado most likely swept up the fish and water, only to deposit them hundreds of miles inland, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Throughout history, there have been reports of frogs, jellies, crayfish, and even baby alligators raining from the sky.
But sharks? "There are records of small fish being picked up by waterspouts, but sharks are pretty big and that makes it a lot harder" Harold Brooks, a scientist at NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory, told Mother Jones magazine in 2013.
If a tornado were powerful enough to carry a shark, the resulting rotating debris of wood and metal would kill the animal, Dr. Brooks added.
At least in theory, a tornado could generate winds strong enough to keep a shark aloft. Kim Martini, a physical oceanographer at the University of Washington in Seattle, calculates that one would need a minimum vertical wind speed of 127 miles per hour to fly a 2,200-lb. shark. Wind speeds like that are rare, but not unheard of in the most powerful twisters.
"Carry a diversionary herring just in case," Dr. Martini writes.
A tornado might be able to keep a shark in flight, but could a violently rotating column of wind pluck the animal out of the water in the first place?
Probably not. Sharks, like most sensible animals, try to avoid intense storms. During one Florida twister that struck the Ft. Lauderdale theme park Ocean World in 1969, the park's head said that the captive sharks “head[ed] for the bottom of their shallow pool when the winds began to build,” according to an Associated Press article from 1969.
Even if a sharknado were to succeed in capturing a shark, it is unlikely that the shark would take out its misfortune on humans, as unprovoked shark attacks rarely hurt or maim people.
So in the end, is Ms. Reid right? Under certain conditions, a twister could fling a shark carcass some distance, possibly on top of a swimsuit-clad, chainsaw-wielding beachgoer. But it's probably safe to say that it wouldn't happen twice.